MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that there will be no peace in Ukraine until the Kremlin achieves its goals, which have not changed after nearly two years of fighting that has heightened tensions between Moscow and the West.
Speaking at a year-end news conference that lasted more than four hours and provided him with an opportunity to consolidate his grip on power, Putin provided some rare details about what Moscow calls its “special military operation.”
He rejected the need for a second wave of mobilization of reservists to fight in Ukraine – a deeply unpopular move. He said that there are about 617,000 Russian soldiers there, including about 244,000 soldiers who have been called to fight alongside professional military forces.
“There will be peace when we achieve our goals,” Putin said, repeating a frequent Kremlin phrase. “Victory will be ours.”
Putin highlighted Russian military gains in Ukraine as the second winter of the conflict approaches.
He added: “Almost along the line of contact, our armed forces are, to put it modestly, improving their positions, almost all of them are in an active phase of work, and there is an improvement in the position of our forces all the time.”
“The enemy has announced a major counterattack, but has not achieved anything anywhere,” Putin added, claiming that the latest Ukrainian attempt to establish a bridgehead on the eastern bank of the Dnieper River also failed and Ukrainian forces suffered heavy losses.
He claimed that Kiev was sacrificing its forces in order to show its Western sponsors some success while seeking more aid.
“I think this is stupid and irresponsible on behalf of the country’s political leadership, but that’s their business,” he said.
Putin, who has been in power for nearly 24 years, made the announcement last week Running for re-electionHe was met with applause upon his arrival at the hall in central Moscow. He did not hold his traditional press conference last year after his army failed to take control of Kiev and as the Ukrainian army regained territory in the east and south.
But with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky He was forced to request more American aid In the middle of procrastination counterattack And And Western support was broken He decides to face the media again – although the session is highly choreographed and more about spectacle than scrutiny.
It was the first time that Putin, who has greatly limited his interaction with foreign media, faced questions from Western journalists since the fighting began in Ukraine. Ordinary citizens were given the opportunity to submit questions alongside journalists’ questions, and Russian state media said at least two million of them had been sent in early.
The press conference began with questions about Ukraine and highlighted some Russians’ concerns about another wave of mobilization.
“There is no need” for mobilization now, Putin said, because 1,500 men are being recruited every day. He added that as of Wednesday evening, 486,000 soldiers had signed contracts with the Russian army.
Putin’s statements about another wave of mobilization were met with skepticism by some independent Russian media, which pointed out that he promised not to recruit reservists for Ukraine and then reversed course and ordered the armed forces. Call “partial”.
This move, announced in September 2022, prompted thousands of Russians to leave the country.
He reiterated that Moscow’s goals in Ukraine – “denazification, disarmament and neutral status” for Ukraine – have not changed. He made those loosely defined goals clear on the day he sent troops into its neighbor in February 2022.
The “denazification” claim refers to Russia’s claims that the Ukrainian government is heavily influenced by ultra-nationalist and neo-Nazi groups – a claim that has been ridiculed by Kiev and the West.
Putin also called on Ukraine to remain neutral and refrain from joining NATO.
Putin’s last press conference was in 2021 amid US warnings that Russia was about to send troops to Ukraine. He has delayed his annual State of the Nation address Until February of this year.
Since then, relations between Russia and the United States have sunk to new lows as the conflict continues and after Moscow detained American journalist Ivan Gershkovich during a press trip to Russia in March.
Shortly before Putin spoke, a Russian court ruled that Gershkovitch, 32, He should remain behind bars Until at least January 30.
US citizen Paul Whelan, a corporate security executive also from Michigan He was imprisoned in Russia Since his arrest in 2018 on espionage-related charges.
Russia recently He declined the offer To bring home Gershkovitch and Whelan, who the US government has declared are wrongfully detained.
“We do not refuse to return them,” Putin said on Thursday, adding that he wanted to reach an agreement but “it is not easy.”
He refused to go into the details of any exchange, but said that Washington “must listen to us” and make an offer that satisfies Russia.
Putin appeared calm and relaxed during the press conference, although he complained a lot, blaming the air conditioner. His appearance is aimed primarily at a domestic audience and represents an opportunity for him to appear personally involved in solving the problems of ordinary Russians and consolidate his authority before the March 17 elections.
In response to a final question about what kind of warning he would have given himself from today’s perspective when he began his first term in 2000, Putin said he would have warned against “naivety and overconfidence regarding our so-called partners.”
While asking how much toll roads cost, Putin took notes and gave the impression that he was collecting sums in a notebook.
He also took questions from a group of children in Russian-annexed Crimea about the leaky roof and mold in their gym, and a woman called out “my favorite president” to complain about high egg prices.
“I’m sorry and I apologize for that,” Putin responded, saying: “A defect in the government’s work,” explaining that egg production did not match demand, and blaming the government for not increasing imports quickly enough.
Although the press conference was intensely choreographed, some questions — which Putin did not answer — appeared to slip through the net, appearing on screens throughout the hall.
“Mr. President, when will the real Russia be the same as the one on TV?,” one text message said, in an apparent reference to the Kremlin’s control of media that portray Putin in a positive light, ignore the country’s problems and highlight its achievements.
Another read: “I would like to know when will our president take care of his country? We have no education and no health care. The abyss awaits us.”
Putin was asked by an AI version of himself, speaking with his face and voice, about whether he uses body doubles – a topic Intense speculation By some Kremlin observers. Putin rejected this proposal.
“Only one person should look like me and speak with my voice – that person will be me,” he said in a deadpan voice. “By the way, that is my first husband.”
Journalists lined up in freezing temperatures to enter the venue hours before Putin’s arrival, some wearing traditional clothing, including elaborate hats to attract his attention. Many journalists also carried banners, prompting the Kremlin to limit their size.
Attendees were tested for coronavirus (COVID-19) and influenza before entering the site. Putin imposed Strict quarantine for visitors During the Covid-19 pandemic.
This story has been updated to correct that 244,000 is the number of troops called into combat who are in Ukraine, not the total number there.
Associated Press writers Emma Burrows in London and Dasha Litvinova in Tallinn, Estonia contributed.
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